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Belarus - Zavadski case16 July 2002

Supreme Court confirms life sentence on former top policeman

image 90 x 91 (JPEG) The Belarus Supreme Court confirmed on 16 July a sentence of life imprisonment on Valery Ignatovich, former head of the interior ministry’s special police force, and one of his subordinates for their part in the kidnapping and presumed murder of journalist Dmitri Zavadski and for killing five other people.

Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network noted that the body of Zavadski, who disappeared in Minsk on 7 July 2000, had still not been found and that serious doubts remained about the case. The Zavadski family lawyer, Sergei Tsurko, called the verdict "illegal" and based on "conflicting confessions and thin evidence."

The two organisations called for a new investigation to establish who was responsible for his disappearance and probable murder and said they would support all efforts by his family to find out the truth. They repeated their demand for an independent enquiry and the intervention of the Council of Europe.

Zavadski was formerly the personal cameraman of President Alexander Lukashenko until 1996, when he resigned from the government-controlled TV station without the agreement of the authorities and joined the Russian station ORT. He was imprisoned for two months with an ORT colleague in 1997 after they reported on gaps in Belarus security along the country’s border with Lithuania.

In 2000, Zavadski revealed that Ignatovich, who had left the interior ministry police, was working with independence fighters in Chechnya. Ignatovich was convicted on 14 March this year of murdering five people and of being responsible for the journalist’s disappearance. The Belarus authorities said he killed Zavadski because he had reported his presence in Chechnya.

Despite the plausibility of the suspected killer’s motive, many questions remain. A blanket of silence has fallen over the case since September 2000, when Vladimir Naumov, who set up the interior ministry’s Almaz special police, which guards the president, was named minister.

The court in Minsk curiously made no effort to look for the journalist’s body or establish the circumstances of his kidnapping and probable murder. No journalist has been able to meet those involved in the case or attend the court hearings. The Zavadski family were only occasionally summoned to give evidence in court.

In a statement on 11 June last year, two former Belarus prosecution officials who had fled abroad - including Dmitri Petrushkevic, who was in charge of the Zavadski case - accused the general prosecutor, Viktor Shayman, and the deputy head of the presidential office, Yuri Sivakov, of setting up a "death squad" in 1996, while they were respectively secretary of the national security council and minister of the interior. They said the squad was first told to eliminate underworld figures and then received more "political" missions. These accusations have never been investigated.




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